An Italian version, entitled Erasto, based upon current Euro­pean texts, was printed, at Mantua, in 1558, of which a French translation, Histoire Pitoyable du Prince Erastus, was made in 1572. From the French it was rendered into English, under the title of History of Prince Erastus and the Seven Wise Masters of Rome, in 1674, by Francis Kirkman, a voluminous scribbler. This version comprises some tales which are not found in the earlier texts, but occur in the Italian novels and other collections.

The mediæval romance of the Seven Wise Masters must have been one of the most popular books in England during the 16th and 17th centuries; and even, among the common people, until comparatively recent times; judging from the numerous editions of the prose version which are preserved in our great libraries. The Latin Historia seems to have been translated into English, perhaps from a French rendering, in the beginning of the 16th century, and first printed by Wynkyn de Worde. A copy of this editio princeps in the British Museum commences thus:

Here begynneth thystorye of ye vii Wyse Maysters of rome conteynynge ryght fayre and ryght ioyous narracons and to ye reder ryght delectable;

and the colophon:

Thus endeth the treatyse of the seuen sages or wyse maysters of Rome. Emprented in flet strete in ye sygne of the sone by me Wynkyn de worde. [4to, black letter, 80 leaves, with several page woodcuts: circa 1505.]

According to Ellis, the Seven Wise Masters was “translated from the French into English, first printed by W. Copland, without date, but between 1548 and 1567.” It would appear, however, from the title of Copland's edition (only one copy of which was known to exist, and it disappeared many years ago; I do not know whether it has turned up again), that it was a reprint of Wynkyn de Worde:

Here beginneth thystorye of the seuen wyse Maysters of Rome con-teyning ryght faire and ryght ioyous narracios, and to the reder ryght delectable. [Col.] Thus endeth the treatyse of the seuen sages or wyse Maysters of Rome. Imprinted at London in Flete Strete at the sygne of the Rose Garland, by me William Copland. [8vo, black letter, circa 1550.]

The black letter copy in the Glasgow University Library, which I have made use of occasionally in the course of these notes, is supposed to be a reprint of Copland's edition, by Sanders, one of the early Glasgow printers, about the end of the 17th century. It has been well thumbed, and wants three leaves at the begin­ning, and probably one leaf at the end.

Besides the editio princeps of Wynkyn de Worde, there are copies of twelve other prose editions of the Seven Wise Masters in the British Museum, viz.—London, 1671, 8vo; 1684, 12mo; 1687, 8vo, B.L.; 1697, 8vo, B.L.; Glasgow (Robert Sanders, son of the printer above mentioned), 1713, 8vo; Newcastle, ? 1760, 12mo; London, ? 1780, 12mo; Boston, 1794, 12mo; London, ? 1750, 12mo; ? 1785, 12mo; ? 1805, 12mo; and Warrington, ? 1815, 12mo: the four last are chap-books. The Bodleian Library, Oxford, has two prose editions, 1653 and 1682; and a curious metrical version entitled: Sage and prudente Saynges of the Seuen wyse Men, by Robert Brenant, with a comment, London, 1553, small 8vo, black letter.—In 1575 was printed at Edinburgh John Rolland's Scottish metrical version, but it was written in 1560. There are imperfect copies of this work, dated 1620, in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh, and in the Glasgow University Library. It was reprinted (in black letter, 4to), with an Introduction by David Laing, for the Bannatyne Club, in 1835.

A wretched catchpenny imitation of the Wise Masters was published in 1663, under the title of The Seven Wise Mistresses of Rome, which was reprinted as a chap-book, within quite recent years, at Dublin.